Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis’s comments at the AFL-CIO annual meeting last week confirmed speculation that, with or without the resolution of health care legislation, President Obama will announce his recess appointment of Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board when Congress breaks for the Easter recess. While this effectively could preclude Becker from serving a normal five-year term, he would serve for about a year-and-a-half, enough time to have a profound impact on labor relations in this country.
In addition, some say the President also will appoint to the Labor Board union-lawyer Mark Pearce, who was previously nominated, and an as-yet-unnamed person (this would be in place of Bryan Hayes, the previous nominee for the currently vacant “Republican seat” on the Board). Some believe a recess appointment of Becker would be something the President can deliver to his labor supporters in advance of the upcoming mid-term elections.
Filling the Board’s vacancies with recess appointments now would give the Board time to achieve significant labor law reform through rulemaking without EFCA, which is unlikely to pass any time soon. Under current law, the NLRB, without Congress, may implement significant change through administrative rulemaking. It did so when it issued rules on the appropriate bargaining unit for acute care hospitals, which significantly reduced delays in scheduling union elections within that industry.
Rulemaking could be used to streamline election procedures, expand voting “access” through electronic or absentee balloting and enhance special remedies and penalties for employer unfair labor practices in initial organizing and first contract situations. Along with traditional case-by-case decisionmaking and the development of internal agency policies, the Board could use rulemaking to realize some of the advantages unions sought, but have yet to achieve through EFCA.
There may be another reason for recess appointments. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review a case on whether the current two-member Board had a sufficient quorum when it issued decisions over the past year-and-a-half. The District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that it did not, though the majority of the other circuits have said otherwise. If the Supreme Court rules against the Board, it will nullify all of those decisions. Without an appropriate number of Board members, the current two-member Board cannot rectify the situation. If the anticipated recess appointments materialize, a more labor-oriented Board would have the chance to re-consider and re-write those decisions.